More Sky Mountain trails in offing
Sky Mountain Park and the popular Skyline Ridge Trail will open on schedule on May 16 for a summer season that will bring construction of new trails to access the property.
The park is a conglomeration of open space parcels, mostly centered around Snowmass Village, totaling some 2,500 acres. The bulk of the property is closed Dec. 1 through May 15 to protect wildlife habitat, and much of it is closed year-round to dogs.
Scenic Skyline Ridge Trail, a Sky Mountain highlight, follows the top of the ridge separating the Brush Creek and Owl Creek valleys, extending between Snowmass Village and Highway 82.
It will open on schedule this year after snow and mud forced a delayed opening two years ago, when the ridge debuted for public use. Last year, the snow was gone early, and open space rangers were forced to cite violators for hitting the trail before it officially opened.
“We’re going to open it on time, but there’s probably going to be a couple of muddy areas,” said Gary Tennenbaum, stewardship and trails manager with Pitkin County Open Space and Trails. “People should accept the situation. If it’s too muddy to ride, they should turn around.”
Repairing trail damage made by mountain bikers, equestrians and even hikers will only take away from efforts to construct new trails, he said.
This year’s planned work will improve access to Skyline Ridge Trail from the Highway 82 end, with single-track connections to be constructed from both Cozy Point South and the paved Owl Creek Trail — about five miles of new trails in all. Volunteer labor will play a key role, but roughly $30,000 in anticipated costs will be shared by the county and city of Aspen, partners in the projects.
The new Cozyline Trail will provide a route between the city’s Cozy Point Ranch, as well as the Brush Creek intercept lot, and Skyline Ridge Trail from near the intersection of Brush Creek Road and Highway 82. Equestrians who keep their horses at Cozy Point Ranch are especially keen to see Cozyline built.
The trail was to be constructed last summer, but drought conditions and the risk of wildfire associated with chain-saw use forced the project’s postponement.
This year, a Youth Corps crew and Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers will tackle Cozyline, which Tennenbaum hopes to see finished by mid- to late July.
The Outdoor Volunteers group will hold a series of evening projects on Cozyline on Tuesdays in June from 4 p.m. to dusk. Go to http://www.rfov.org to sign up.
On the opposite side of the ridge, where the dirt Radar Road provides access between Owl Creek Road and Skyline Ridge Trail, a new route dubbed Airline Trail will connect Owl Creek Trail to Cozyline, wrapping around the highway side of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport’s radar tower atop the ridge.
The Youth Corps will begin work on Airline once Cozyline is finished, and Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers will hold an all-day project on Airline on July 20.
When it’s constructed, by mid- to late August, users will have an alternative to Radar Road, and the road likely will be retired from public use, Tennenbaum said. Potential future development of new facilities at the airport would preclude its use anyway, he said.
“The biggest complaint we get on Radar Road is its steepness,” Tennenbaum added.
Stretches of the road are at a 20 percent grade (Aspen’s popular Smuggler Mountain Road up to the viewing platform ranges from 8 to 15 percent by comparison, he said). The grade on Airline Trail will average 7 percent — comparable to Viewline Trail, which was previously constructed on the Snowmass Village end to provide a link to Skyline Ridge Trail.
The new routes will provide some stellar views from the top of Shale Bluffs and improve access from the Highway 82 end of Skyline Ridge Trail, according to Tennenbaum.
“It’s going to totally change the experience from the Aspen side,” Tennenbaum said.
The north section of the Rim Trail also will reopen on May 16. The Snowmass Village Town Council voted in March to alter that trail’s closure to coincide with that of Sky Mountain Park.
Users also will be able to walk leashed dogs on Rim Trail North this summer. In that same meeting, the council temporarily lifted the prohibition of dogs on that section of trail. The restriction formerly was not enforced, and many residents have campaigned to open it to canines. However, Pitkin County open space officials have said that they want to see compliance to a leash law before they will build the connection between the town trail and the Sky Mountain Park network.
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A six mile cross-country ski race brought 168 skiers to the trails between Snowmass and Buttermilk in 1971.